'Azzun, Tue 17.7.12, Afternoon
Meeting with the Azzun municipality’s spokesman following a report last week in an Arabic newspaper about eight youths who had been arrested by the IDF in the middle of the night.
Shomron gate – no vehicles at the checkpoint
An army Hummer at the Yakir junction
Azzun. We came to meet Hassan Shvita, the municipal spokesman, but found him hosting three Ecumenicals, women from EAPPI who live in Jayyous. While we waited we sat with Majid Adwan, the deputy mayor and administrative director. He’d learned Hebrew while studying business administration at Al Najah University, but hadn’t used the language since. He finished his studies 14 years ago, and has worked since then for the municipality, first as a clerk, and was subsequently promoted to other positions. When Hassan was free we moved to his office.
We’d come to learn about the arrests. Both of them gave us detailed information and then immediately told us about their new troubles: stop-work orders on two buildings under construction. But particularly burdensome for them, every day, every hour, is that the main road east toward Nablus/Jericho is blocked (and they also asked what they can do about it).
They showed us the press release they’d issued about the incident last Wednesday night. They told us that for years the army has occasionally been coming at night to arrest youths accused of throwing rocks, and other suspects. But last month things got worse. Last Wednesday, 11.7.12, many soldiers (200-300) came to Azzun at 1 AM, invaded the homes and made all the inhabitants go outside. Hassan is angry that the soldiers don’t just enter the “suspect’s” home, but also invade all the surrounding homes, along with their dogs, and remain until dawn. The searches are violent; they don’t just open doors, they kick them in and break them down with their guns. While searching the house they upend and break the furniture. Hassan said they didn’t find anything, but that you don’t know whether they plant something in the home while the inhabitants are outside. The children are traumatized; they’ll never forget what they saw.
Hassan asked the soldiers, “Why?”; the soldier replied, “I want you to fear.” Hassan answered, “You’re only making more enemies. After tonight you’ve more people in every house who hate you.”
This time they took 8 Palestinians directly (which was unusual) to the Megiddo prison. They haven’t yet been indicted. Their ages: 16, 28, 16, 16, 38, 26, 17, 16.
About 100 residents of Azzun are currently in the Megiddo prison, 34 of them children (under 16). Hassan thinks they’re delaying their trial until they reach 16, when they can be given longer sentences. He shows us a file as an example:
In April, 2011, seven children aged 14-15 were taken from their homes; they’ve been in the Megiddo prison since. Their trial was held on 19.6.12. In other words, they were imprisoned without trial for more than a year. Their sentences – 5-15 years imprisonment (he showed us the list) and a NIS 5000 fine for each, which must be paid by 19.8.12, or else their sentences will be lengthened.
The accusation: throwing rocks at a female settler’s car.
The judge is from Karnei Shomron; Hassan says “he hates Arabs” and decided to deal severely with the residents of Azzun to teach them a lesson.
Azzun is located in the Qalqilya sub-district, on the road between Nablus and Qalqilya (Highway 55), about 8 kilometers east of Qalqilya. The town has some 11,000 inhabitants, most of them Moslems, with a minority of Christians. Part of the town is in Area C. It has about 1600 houses, of which 200-250 are located in Area C.
The Civil Administration doesn’t grant construction permits to families with land in Area C who wish to build on it, even though it’s obligated to prepare plans that serve as the basis for granting permits. Parts of Area C are more sensitive and parts are less so. There are areas where people build and the army turns a blind eye, and others where they’re issued demolition orders. The two buildings that received stop-work orders are in Area C, in west Azzun, between Highway 55 and the road connecting Azzun with Izbat Tabib.
Two days ago H., from Karnei Shomron, arrived; he’s the responsible official from the Civil Administration. He photographed two buildings and issued stop-work orders to their owners. Their trial has been scheduled for 13.8.12. Hassan explains that the municipality can’t do anything to oppose the stop-work and demolition orders. All it can do is supply buildings in Area C with water and electricity.
To demonstrate how helpless they are in the face of the authorities he tells us of an enterprise in Azzun whose application to the Civil Administration for a building permit was denied. The owners were notified that the structure would be demolished that afternoon, that they should remove all the equipment. But the bulldozers arrived at 06:30 in the morning and demolished everything, the building and its contents, before the owner could remove anything. Hassan invited foreign TV journalists to film the rubble.
Blocking the main road to the east
Azzun sits at the junction of the main road from Qalqilya to Nablus (which used to go through Azzun until the Highway 55 bypass was built), and the road from the villages to the south (Deir Balut, Siniriyya, Thulat) and Jayyous, and then to Tulkarm. Its lands spread in every direction. Today it’s surrounded by the settlements that were erected on its lands: Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Shomron to the east and southeast, and Alfei Menashe to the west.
We remember the many years Azzun was surrounded, when most of the entrances and exists were blocked. Today the main entrance from Highway 55 is wide and well-marked (the bar of the gate remains as a souvenir); the only remaining roadblock is at the eastern exit, toward Karnei Shomron. That prevents cars, and in particular public transportation, from going through the town from east to west, and north, to collect and let off passengers along the way, instead of leaving them at the northern entrance. They say there’s almost no traffic on the road they want to connect to, because an internal road has been paved for the settlers from Karnei Shomron to Ma’aleh Shomron.
Before we part, Hassan gets in the car to show us around. Some sections of the road after we leave the town are in poor condition. Before the junction with the highway we reach a high-tension electric pylon erected two weeks ago to serve the settlers. The gray gate was installed in its honor, and the concrete cubes blocking the road were moved slightly. He shows us below a road on which Palestinians are forbidden to drive. Incidentally, they’re not allowed to repair the road that’s in poor condition. The lord won’t agree.
Eliyahu crossing. Six cars wait for inspection in the far right-hand lane, all with yellow license plates. Cars wait in the other lanes as well, but traffic flows. I notice a dog and take out my camera. About eight security people in civilian clothing rush at us from every direction, informing us that this is a military installation, that photography is forbidden.
My camera is taken and the photo erased. Ordnung muss sein!